When Lyla Daniel enrolled at Toronto’s George Brown College last year to begin a bachelor of science and a nursing degree, she lived in her parents’ home in Barrie, Ont., a 90-minute commute away. She’d come in to the downtown campus every day by GO train, which, she notes, “is kind of rough.”
Her second-year experience has improved markedly, however, because Daniel, 22, is one of about 500 students living in “The George,” the college’s new–and indeed first–student residence. “It’s the nicest residence building I’ve ever seen,” says Daniel, who not only lives there, but is also a “resident adviser” to other students. “It doesn’t have that residence feel.”
The building, which cost the college about $42 million, is one of the legacies of the Pan Am/Parapan 2015 Games, when it formed part of the athletes’ village, situated in a 32-hectare former industrial precinct known as the West Don Lands.
While the other structures from the athletes’ village are being repurposed as condos or affordable housing, the George offered an opportunity for the three-campus college to address a longstanding gap in its service offering.
According to Gerard Hayes, the college’s director of student experience, internal surveys show that 95 per cent of George Brown’s students travel to the campus by public transit, with some spending up to 90 minutes each day. “Residence [was] an important factor that was missing.”
From the beginning, Hayes says, officials decided to create a residence experience that didn’t feel institutional and Spartan.
Drawing on research about undergraduate quality of life indicators, George Brown refashioned the building into a series of two-bedroom apartments, each with a shared kitchenette, bathroom, and dining area.
That suite configuration provides the companionship that is important to students who may not have lived away from home before, but also affords them a measure of privacy.
Each bedroom is outfitted with basic furniture, but also a double XL platform bed, a flat-screen smart TV, and high-speed WiFi/cable package. Hayes says the college opted not to provide a meal plan—something that parents want, but students tend not to use—and instead built fully equipped kitchens and common rooms on every other floor.
“The intent is to get them out of their rooms and doing more cooking.” Indeed, students in GBC’s culinary programs have come in to lead cooking demonstrations, and the college has organized other social events, such as barbecues and field trips, for the students living there.
Besides the programming, the building comes with 24-hour front-desk security, and each room receives a “deep cleaning” every two weeks, Hayes adds. The fee is $8,900 for eight months.
The location is also proving to be a boon—it’s not only close to two of GBC’s three campuses, but is within a quick walk of local amenities such as the Corktown Common park, the Distillery District, and a new YMCA. “We’re literally in the middle of everything,” says Daniel.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the college received a robust response to the new building, with over 1,200 applicants for 500 beds for the 2016-17 school year. Hayes points out that the college did accept applications from students living in Toronto. Most of the students are in first year and the majority are under 19 years old.
Demand has been such that the college is discussing the prospect of developing other residence facilities, but Hayes acknowledges that skyrocketing land values in downtown Toronto represent a major impediment.
“The Pan Am Games were a good opportunity,” he notes.
Daniel, for her part, doesn’t need to be convinced of the case for more such facilities. “It’s a very, very good opportunity [for students] to transition to living in the city,” she says.